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Yet another interview
May 1, 2009, 4:49 am

Pumpkins' James Iha in new supergroup

By BLAIR R. FISCHER Contributor

There's a long history of -- for lack of a better word -- "supergroups." These, of course, are bands comprised of musicians with already established pedigrees. Classic examples are Blind Faith and The Travelling Wilburys, while less memorable amalgams include HSAS and The Firm (both the rock and hip-hop versions). Seemingly not a year goes by when one forms, and 2009 marks the debut of one of the odder supergroups: Tinted Windows.

Featuring Taylor Hanson (Hanson) on vocals, Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy) on bass, James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins, A Perfect Circle) on guitar, and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) on drums, Tinted Windows is arguably the most multigenerational supergroup ever, with Carlos -- for example -- being 32 years Hanson's senior. Says Iha, "We're hoping we're starting a new trend of strange supergroups." The power-pop quartet released its eponymous debut April 21, and is slated to play one of only a handful of club dates April 30 at Chicago's Double Door.

The Pioneer Press spoke with Chicago native Iha -- he is a graduate of Elk Grove Village High School -- best known for his work with the '90s alt-powerhouse Pumpkins. Iha now lives in New York but, he says, "I still come back to Chicago to eat pizza." While reluctant to talk about his days with the Pumpkins or the band's recent reunion, which didn't include him, he confirms he was indeed asked by Corgan to reunite with the band but declined. "I'm not really answering too many questions about the Pumpkins just because I don't wanna make it a thing about that," he says. "I just want to keep it positive as far as being proud of what we accomplished while I was in the band."

Q: How did you come to be in Tinted Windows?

A: I've known Adam since the mid-90s. We started an indie record label together (Scratchie Records) in the mid-90s and Fountains of Wayne toured with the Smashing Pumpkins for a couple months. We have a recording studio in New York, so we hang out all the time. So, a couple years ago, Adam was like, 'Dude, I got this idea. We should do this pop-rock, loud guitar thing with Taylor Hanson singing.' And I was like, 'That's an awesome idea.' He knows Taylor because the guy who actually signed Tinted Windows, Steve Greenberg, he signed Hanson and Fountains of Wayne. He asked Adam a while ago to write with Hanson. So he's known Taylor since the mid-90s, as well.

Q: You wouldn't think your first reaction would be "awesome" upon hearing Taylor Hanson's name. Did you have preconceived notions of Hanson?

A: I knew he could sing. I just liked the idea of coming up with a high-concept project where you specifically write for this type of band. I thought it was an interesting twist on Taylor, who's normally not singing on top of this kind of music. At the same time, I don't think it's totally removed from what Hanson's known for, "MMMBop," and that's totally pop. I think it's cool to put him in this pop-rock format with loud guitars and just put it out as is.

Q: Does Tinted Windows feel like a band?

A: Yeah. It was always in theory for a really long time. We finished the record and the first time we actually played in the same room was when we performed for our South by Southwest tour. So it was always broken up. Taylor would do some sessions and Bun E. did his sessions. When we played at South by Southwest (in Austin) it was like, "Oh yeah, this is great."

Q: So the album was recorded before you jammed or rehearsed?

A: Taylor, Adam and I wrote songs. We all just brought them in for the project. The three of us sat there and were like, "How does this song go?" And we decided, "Oh, this is good." "This is bad." And then at some point obviously we needed a drummer and we had different drummer ideas. One of the references was, "We should get someone like Bun E. Carlos." He should play something like that. After a while, we were like, ... 'Call Bun E. Carlos.'" His first reaction was, "Let me hear the music." We sent him a CD and he was into it. Thankfully.

Q: During the recording, were you guys ever all together?

A: No, we were never all together. Bun E. and Taylor didn't meet til we had our first rehearsal, which is kind of totally backwards. But it kind of goes along with the whole high concept of the band. We had rules. "No keyboards. No three-part harmonies. Keep the guitar overdubs to a minimum." Try to make it sound like a band.

Q: Was there a fear of "what if this doesn't sound good when we play live?"

A: Yeah, that totally crossed my mind. Like, "Oh my God, this could be a nightmare." It was great, we had one rehearsal and it was like, "Oh, this is gonna be totally fun and rockin'." You knew everyone could play and sing but you obviously just never know what it sounds like. The whole point was this should be fun. We took the writing and recording of the record seriously but we just wanted it to be fun. We're hoping it comes off that way.

Q: How does Tinted Windows compare to other bands you've been in?

A: I can't really compare it to the Pumpkins or A Perfect Circle. It obviously sounds a lot different than that. It's still kind of loud like other rock bands that I've been in, but just different music.

Q: A lot of so-called supergroups don't have very long careers. Is this first album a one-off or is a case of wait-and-see?

A: I think it's a wait-and-see but I think everyone's really into it. I could definitely see "Tinted Windows 2" coming out. It's been so much fun so far. I think now that everyone knows what it is, it could be even more fun.

Q: What's up with the album cover featuring only the band logo?

A: You have to look at it through the prism. The bands that we were referencing like The Buzzcocks and The Knack, it was just super minimal and the logo was really important. If you look at the back, we referenced a lot of those power pop and New Wave bands from the late '70s/early '80s. They had these sort of these minimal album covers that looked like that. I feel like album covers and album art has progressed so much that we thought it was cool to be totally simple and rely on the audacity of just putting the logo on the album cover. We're saying "audacity." Obama owns that word now. You can never say that word without thinking Obama. So we were referencing Obama with that album cover.

Q: You haven't released a solo album since your debut in 1998. Any plans for another?

A: I'm in the middle of one right now. I guess halfway done. It's much easier for me to work on other projects with other people's music, be it producing or writing or remixing than working on my own music. I'm into it and I'm hopefully going to finish it some time this year.

Source: Pioneer Press